On campus, students sit on benches, sifting through their totes in search of a pen or pencil, grasping into the small abyss of the bag. As the backpack fades to the background, many students have opted to stylize their school outfits with something more unique—the tote bag. Different styles appear among the crowd: A canvas tote with hand drawn artwork, thick leather designer bags, or the classic Longchamp adhered with its nifty zipper. As the trend makes its rise, one wonders why students prefer them to backpacks and whether this trend is sustainable in the long run.
For Sasha Dodson, U1 Arts, tote bags are a fashion-forward alternative to the out-of-date backpack.
“I found it a bit more convenient and less pretentious,” Dodson said. “I think they are more spacious than hand bags or purses that kind of date you.”
Many students appreciate not only the accessibility of a smaller bag, but also the chance to elevate their look without appearing too formal. Others, like U0 Arts student Kyra Odell, jumped on the trend because of the fashionable element that comes with sporting a tote bag.
“I see everyone having tote bags and I feel like it’s both convenient and stylish,” Odell said.
Alongside the ability to express oneself with a functional bag, the need for a backpack seems to be dissipating. As more students transition to taking notes on their electronic devices, traditional classroom supplies like binders, notebooks, or even a pen are no longer essential, rendering the bulky backpack defunct. Those returning to campus can use this opportunity to rebrand their look, with some students even painting their own designs.
While talking to McGill students about the objects in their bags, most carried the same four or five objects: Computer, wallet, notebook, pen, and water bottle. Having less of a requirement to bring classic school items like notebooks and pencil cases, students have extra space to store crystals, shoehorns, or even reusable cutlery.
Carrying a tote is not all it seems, however. Many find themselves struggling with disorganization, unpredictable weather, and discomfort. “The rain is a concern,” Sarah Fahmy, U1 Science said. Fahmy’s classic canvas bag often soaks through on rainy days, damaging her computer and dampening her notebooks.
Fahmy’s friend, Mara Lupesco, U1 Arts, also noted the tote’s occasional lack of functionality.
“Things seem to just be banging together in there,” Lupesco said. “I think I’m going to switch back to backpacks.”
Though the trend has made a mark with a new wave of stylish university students, the reliance on a flimsy bag does not always seem to do the trick.
With all of its benefits as well as downsides, the tote ultimately allows students to play around with their personal style in a subtle way, transforming themselves from the classic university student to the artsy kid with a hand-printed tote, or the elegant scholar with their suede leather dagne dover. As the world migrates to a more online lifestyle, sometimes the itch for personal style overtakes the functionality of the classic backpack. Despite this, the impracticalities of the tote make one question whether this McGill student favourite is here to stay.